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Opinions of Thursday, 7 May 2020

Columnist: Rev Aidan Kwame Ahaligah

Coronavirus: A Ghanaian Christian response

Since China reported its first cases of unexplained low respiratory infections in Wuhan, on 31 December 2019, 197 countries and territories as at the time of writing have recorded nearly a million infections of what the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses calls SARS- Cov-2. The disease that SARS-Cov-2 causes are what has been termed Covid-19. As of May 6 2020, the authorities of the health surveillance system of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), but the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country at 3,091 and the number of deaths at 18.

Christians have not been exempted from the anxiety and uncertainties engendered by both worst-case scientific scenarios and superstitious speculations. Markets will crash, people will have horrific lung diseases, there will be mass death, unemployment will increase, the quarantine will last throughout most parts of the year are a few of the speculations which have understandably caused much anxiety. Are these speculations not disproportionate to the actual threat? The fear this pandemic has caused is palpable but the truth is, our world has always been susceptible, fallible and fleeting.

Whether it is a response to fearmongering or to the actual threat of the impact of COVID-19, nations across the globe have taken drastic measures such as mass quarantine, suspension of sports seasons, school closures and sweeping mass gathering and travel bans. In Ghana, the debate on government restrictions and edicts on social distancing, public gatherings and lockdown, continues unabated in the public sphere.

Indeed, we are in a period which is inherently uncertain and disruptive. There is no doubt that for many Ghanaians, Christian or not, the news of a pandemic is traumatic enough and will, if it hasn’t already, exacted a tremendous toll on lives—shaping and no doubt shaking moral and religious outlooks as well as biblical standards. Like the psalmist in (Psalm 31:3), we too can “hear the whisperings of many—terror on every side!” In this period of considerable anxiety, what should a healthy Christian response look like?

According to some prophets, mostly from the Ghanaian Pentecostal churches, in particular, this pandemic was revealed to them long before it struck, while others claim to have the antidote by way of powerful anointing oils and other religious accoutrements. While these antics by so-called men and women of God are unfortunate, the shenanigans and purveyors of such destructive ideas have received collective opprobrium from well-meaning Ghanaians and some senior clergy. For some Christians, there are strong comparisons to be made between Covid-19 and the biblical plagues of Egypt. For others, the pandemic is a warning sign of the end-times, it is a precursor to the 2nd coming of Christ. Are these pontifications of the end times and of God’s imminent judgment not exacerbating the already panicked voices in the country? It is precise because the whole world is gripped with fear that makes a Christian response that is grounded in hope, timely and crucial.

Let us continue to commit to fasting and prayer. Prayer shouldn’t be reduced to political or ideological banter, it is a biblical command. As Christians prayer is our prolegomenon, i.e., our starting point but it shouldn’t be the end. There is an African proverb that says: “When you pray, move your feet.” What is being asked of us as Christians, inferred to in this proverb is that prayer isn’t just words but also actions that are life-giving and glorify God. In this current context, how do we do this?

Our medical understanding of Covid-19 teaches us that washing our hands, isolating if sick, and keeping our distance are the surest ways of bending the curve and stopping a tsunami effect. People have died and will continue to die if these instructions are not followed. Our prayer should exhibit in our obedience to professional medical advice on how to break the chain of transmission. There is the need for the church to step up its compassion ministries to both members and non-members who will be affected but the most powerful prayers will be to keep our distance even though as Christians our faith is founded on community. We can commune meaningfully without congregating. This, in my opinion, is the time, that the Lord may be calling the church and Christians in Ghana to move away from business as usual and live the faith in more tangible and practical ways. It is time to give back.

Surely this pandemic shall pass and Ghana shall be restored, but God would have ushered us into a dispensation where the ultimate call of the church is not prosperity but to carve out a theology of love—for God, neighbour and our environment.

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